A codependent relationship is unequal, but not in an ordinary way. In a codependent friendship, one friend encourages the other to rely on them. The person who is being relied upon is gaining an undue amount of satisfaction in the experience of being needed.
This can then set up an unhealthy element and create a toxic quality, as this progresses the relationship can become enmeshed.
In a codependent relationship the boundaries that define us become lost. It becomes hard to know where one person ends and the other begins. Instead of the friendship helping us to develop greater autonomy and independence and confidence in ourselves the opposite happens, over time we start to feel weaker and more confused.
What do codependent friendships look like in practice? What do they feel like to the people involved?
An example: one person (Jack) gives to another (Jill), not simply because of the rewards of giving, but because the feeling of being valuable provides relief to difficult feelings of emptiness, guilt, and shame that exist within them.
The control that Jack gets feeds his emotional emptiness, he starts to feel whole. Jill becomes increasingly depleted as she loses sight of herself, her needs all become focused on doing what Jack wants. The better she can make Jack feel, the better she feels.
- Codependent friendships are toxic and built on obscure needs
At a core level, a codependent friendship is built on an undeclared and insidious bond of need. In this example, it appears that Jill is getting a good deal, but really, she isn’t, and Jack’s codependency has the upper hand. Jill’s gratitude and increasing need and dependence on Jack helps to neutralise the emotional longings within him. Jill gets drawn into giving Jack what he asks, to go along with his codependent demands.
The origins of these dynamics are usually to be found in our early family relationships
These patterns of relating are handed on from one generation to another. All our stories are particular, but in broad terms when something is lacking in the emotional landscape of our birth family, the lack can be compensated through codependent means.
In this way, it is like addiction, where a substance (food, drink, drugs, sex, gambling, etc.,) becomes used to fill an emotional void. So in codependent relationships, a parent may end up using their relationship with one of their children to fill the void in themselves rather than nurturing the healthy independence of their children. Getting positive feedback from the child acts like a kind of fix. The child’s love is required in a conditional way.
- Coercive relationships, relationships in which one party is being gaslit are codependent friendships taken to an extreme.
How do you develop insight into the nature of your relationships?
How do we come to develop the insights necessary to give us the chance to live and develop friendships that aren’t built upon codependency? Unless the codependent parties find a way to look at the emotional emptiness, the emotional insecurity that they are trying to fend off and avoid in themselves, the problems will become worse.
If we can step back from codependent ways of relating things can change. By taking responsibility for our own emotional wounds and needs instead of acting on them, we can find a way into healthier ways of living and relating.
This tends to be something that benefits from our giving it ongoing attention. If we can find ways to start to look at our own needs and take responsibility for them, then we may minimise the chance of us operating in a codependent way.
- Friendships that are built on healthy independence tend to be more balanced and offer real opportunities for giving and receiving, for helping and being helped.
A codependent friendship looks like it provides one person with what they need, but actually, in the longer term, it drains them. These relationships are set up on an imbalanced power dynamic. It is a perverse and sinister symbiosis in which in the longer term there are no winners because the two people are too involved in the weird powerplay to notice what else is going on.
Codependency and Addiction
It is often something that is present in addiction where you find one person fawning over the addict apparently because they care and trying to help the addict, but often what plays out is that the spiral of addiction deepens. The codependent friendship is more interested in maintaining itself to see what might be needed in order for someone to recover.
It’s paradoxical, but in a codependent friendship the person who is being given to is being depleted because what they seek isn’t ordinary. They have an emotional wound within them that has never been properly acknowledged. Codependent friendships are a kind of toxic solution to the problem. The codependent friendship is being used to try to fill an emotional void, a deep feeling of emptiness within the person. All perspective becomes lost.
In a codependent friendship, everything becomes confused, the boundaries of the individuals become merged, and they become enmeshed in each other. They rely on each other and lose sight of other people and other possibilities.
It may be that people who are prone to develop codependent relationships grew up in families in which unequal and often codependent relationships were common. So one parent may have become caught up in attending to the needs of a child, and that child then grows up and seeks out further codependent relationships.
Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of the way we are prone to codependency and codependent ways of relating.
By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, and how to start living more fully again.
The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings, and experiences can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed.
I have been working with people on issues such as this for more than twenty years. My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.